A Palmdale man was convicted this week of first-degree murder this week for the torture-killing of his girlfriend’s 8-year-old son, whose agony- filled life shocked the community and led to criminal charges against social workers accused of ignoring his plight.
Isauro Aguirre, 37, faces a possible death sentence for the killing of Gabriel Fernandez, who was routinely beaten, shot with a BB gun, fed cat feces and forced to sleep while gagged and bound inside a small cabinet. In addition to convicting Aguirre of murder, the seven-woman, five-man jury also found true a special circumstance allegation of murder involving the infliction of torture. The jury deliberated for about 5 1/2 hours over two days before reaching its verdict late Wednesday morning.
The penalty phase of Aguirre’s trial, during which jurors will be asked whether Aguirre should be sentenced to death or life in prison without parole, will begin Nov. 27.
Gabriel’s mother, 34-year-old Pearl Sinthia Fernandez, is still awaiting trial for the boy’s May 2013 death. Prosecutors are also seeking the death penalty for her.
Aguirre’s attorney, Michael Sklar, acknowledged during the trial that Aguirre killed the boy, but told jurors in his closing summation on Monday that the defendant “acted in a rage of anger followed by an explosion of violence’’ and not with the deliberation and premeditation required for a verdict of first- degree murder.
Deputy District Attorney Jonathan Hatami called Aguirre an ”evil” man who “liked torturing”’ the boy and did so systematically in the months leading up to the child’s death. Aguirre hated the boy because he thought he was gay, according to the prosecutor, who began his closing argument by displaying a photo of Gabriel’s battered body lying on an autopsy table—covered in injuries head to toe—as evidence of Aguirre’s intent to kill the boy.
“You can’t believe a person in our society would intentionally murder a child,’’ Hatami said, comparing the abuse to that suffered by a prisoner of war.
“Believe it, because it happened. This was intentional murder by torture,” he told the jury. “Do not go back in the jury room and make excuses for the defendant … this had nothing to do with drugs … this had nothing to do with mental health issues.”
Hatami said in the months leading up to the boy’s death, he was “being starved and punched and kicked and abused and beaten … he was belittled, bullied and called gay. His teeth were knocked out. He was tied up every night in a box … Gabriel was dying.”
The prosecutor painted a picture of Aguirre sleeping in a comfortable bed night after night while, in the same room, Gabriel was bound and gagged inside a small cabinet with a “sock in his mouth, a shoelace (tying) up his hands, a bandanna over his face’’ and his ankles handcuffed.
“To force a child to eat cat litter and cat feces, more than once, how does somebody do that?” Hatami asked, referring to testimony by Gabriel’s big brother.
He alleged that the 6-foot-2, 270-pound defendant punched and kicked Gabriel hard enough to dent the walls of the family’s apartment and leave the boy unconscious, then—with help from the boy’s mother—hid some of the child’s bloody clothing and moved a picture to cover up one of the biggest indentations before calling 911.
Aguirre and the boy’s mother have been jailed without bail since being charged in May 2013 with the boy’s death. The two were subsequently indicted by a Los Angeles County grand jury. Two former Los Angeles County social workers—Stefanie Rodriguez and Patricia Clement—and supervisors Kevin Bom and Gregory Merritt were charged last year with one felony count each of child abuse and falsifying public records in connection with the case.